Rare Book Collections


This is a rare book in the collection of the Cook Islands Library & Museum Society Inc:

“GEMS OF THE CORAL ISLANDS” (first published in 1856)

by Rev. William Gill

Book Review by Luina Lynch, Secretary of Cook Islands Library & Museum Society Council.

This book depicts some of the first European missionary encounters with the local people of some of the islands of the Pacific Ocean.  At this time in the early 1800s the resident population already had their own systems of belief and hierarchies which included worship of idols.  Tribal conflict and cannibalism occurred.  There was also a chieftainship role in place which was acknowledged and adhered to by the local population providing rules on matters including the use of land.

The main force which drove these missionary newcomers was the message of their religion, Christianity, which they were determined to deliver in the face of many obstacles.  One of the main difficulties was the unwillingness of the local people to accept this new belief system.  Going from island to island, enlisting the help of some few converted locals, this book relates how Christianity was spread through parts of the Pacific, including some of the Cook Islands (where the author served as a London Missionary Society minister for 15 years, 1845-1860), Niue and New Caledonia.  It tells of the privations and other difficulties the missionaries endured, their sufferings (and that of some of the wives who accompanied them) but mostly about their dedication to their main perceived task.

It is a read best suited to scholars of Pacific history and for those with an interest in Pacific cultures of the past. There are also some illustrations which help add interest.  But it holds most interest because it gives a view into the lives of Cook Islanders a long time ago.

The first edition of this book is dated 1856, with several reprints, the most recent one in 2001. Reprinted editions are available for sale from the Cook Islands Library & Museum Society at Taputapuatea in Rarotonga.

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